Humane Society Launches Fund Drive Amid Talks On New Location With Town

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The Humane Society this week launched its $3.6-million fund-raising drive for a new shelter, even as a last-minute suggestion to move the animal shelter to town-owned land near the Event Center caused a flurry of discussions.

The Humane Society capped several years of confusion and frustration last week when the Town Council rejected an appeal of the conditional use permit for the facility just off Main Street. However, the council also abruptly interjected a whole new twist into the long-running debate by suggesting Payson might lease or trade five acres of town-owned land next to the rodeo grounds.

Payson Mayor Kenny Evans on Tuesday will meet with the Humane Society Board about the unexpected proposal, after years of debate centered on a site behind the current shelter.

Humane Society Board of Directors President Barbara Brenke said the sudden discussion of the location change had confused many backers of the facility and could hinder the launch of the fund-raising campaign this week. The Humane Society hopes to start construction in January and move in by September of 2009.

"The Humane Society is proceeding with plans to build on the property behind the shelter which we currently own. We were granted our conditional use permit. End of the story at this point, really," said Brenke.

Brenke emphasized that the council has approved the conditional use permit and rejected the appeal, so the group now remains free to build the 15,500-square-foot, sound-proofed facility on the current site.

The proposed facility would house all the animals indoors, but would include outdoor exercise areas for use during daylight hours. The facilities would include a surgical suite where veterinarians would perform low-cost spays and neuters. Sick animals would also have facilities with separate air flows, to prevent diseases from spreading through the kennels.

The group remains on a tight time frame -- and can't afford to go another year without a new facility to explore the proposed shift in location, said Humane Society officials.

"This has to be our last winter in the old shelter. It won't survive another one," said Payson Humane Society Board Vice President Lisa Boyle in a press release announcing the kickoff of the fund-raising drive this week.

Evans on Monday said he'd already had promising discussions with Humane Society board members about whether the group would consider shifting the shelter from the two acres it already owns just off Main Street to five acres the town owns that had been reserved for a convention hotel until the financing fell through.

"I've gotten maybe a dozen phone calls or letters saying that's a great idea," said Evans, "and have heard almost universal support."

Evans said the town could either sign a long-term lease or swap town-owned land at the Event Center for the two acres the group now owns on Main Street.

"We're prepared to put together whatever kind of a long-term lease" or land trade "that makes sense to them," said Evans.

He said the town could probably act within a matter of weeks, to keep the Humane Society's fund-raising campaign on track.

Humane Society officials said the group has already spent a lot of money on building and site plans and was ready to start building as soon as it had raised enough money.

Evans said the group could save close to $1 million in construction costs by moving to a location where it didn't need the soundproofing necessary to operate next to a residential area. The developer of an adjacent development on Main Street featuring $300,000 luxury condominiums had appealed the project, citing concerns about noise.

Moreover, Evans said the Humane Society could perhaps sell the existing site, to raise money for the new facility.

The unexpected proposal represents a dramatic about face. The previous council had leased 11 acres next to the Event Center to a Scottsdale-based hotel developer. That project was supposed to be the cornerstone for an upgrade of the town's capacity to handle conventions booked into an expanded Event Center. The previous council argued that the site was crucial because of its proximity to an ultimately enclosed Event Center with space for vendors and exhibitors -- and just across the highway from the convention facilities at the tribal casino.

But the developer of that project several months ago asked for an extension of the lease option, when his financing fell through. The council rejected the extension, but at the time said the town remained open to development of the site.

Evans said the current location for the proposed animal shelter on Main Street would put the facility in the middle of an area the town hopes to make the retail and commercial center of activity.

He agreed that moving the animal shelter to the Event Center without an overall plan in place would require improvisation at both ends of the arrangement.

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